Advent Vespers Prayer Service: 12-16-2015

 

December 16, 2015

Rev. Ross Mahan, Pastor

Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph

 Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

 

  1. Whenever I hear the Christmas story I can’t help but notice that Joseph doesn’t get much attention. Even in the manger scenes Joseph is usually off to one side and often mistaken for one of the shepherds. The true Christian church does not pray to the saints but we can honor and learn from their lives. Christian tradition tells us that Joseph was older than Mary, perhaps a widower, but no one really knows. We don’t read anything about Joseph in the Gospel record after the family’s visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old (Luke 2:41-52). This is the only glimpse the Bible gives us of our Lord’s childhood. You remember the story, after the Passover feast, without His parent’s knowledge, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem discussing the Word of God with the scholars in the Temple. When Mary and Joseph discovered him missing from the caravan on the way home they returned to search for Him in the city and after three days they finally found Him in the Temple. When they told Jesus how worried they had been He said to them: How is it that ye sought me? Know ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Luke tells us Jesus returned to His home in Nazareth and lived in submission to Joseph and Mary.

 

  1. Later at a wedding in Cana Mary was present (John 2:1-11) but Joseph is not mentioned. At His crucifixion Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to John His disciple which suggests there was no one else to care for her (John 19:26-27). What do we know about Joseph? He was a true believer. The Bible does not record a single word Joseph ever spoke. He was a man of action rather than words. Joseph worked as a carpenter to support his family and was also a dreamer of sorts. Three times an angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream, the first after discovering Mary was pregnant and an angel said to Him: Joseph thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 1:20). The second time was a warning to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod (Matt. 2: 13-15), and the third was when the angel told him to return to Israel (Matt. 2:19-23). In every instance Joseph immediately obeyed the Lord. This is how the church remembers Joseph! He was a man of faith and good works, a man willing to obey God regardless of the cost. Sometimes being obedient to God will cost you. Perhaps you’ve experienced this. Has the will of God ever interrupted what you were planning to do? Have you ever lost a business deal or a job because you were true to God’s Word? Has standing for the truth ever cost you a friendship? Following the will of God can change your plans and this describes the life of Joseph.

I.

  1. Joseph and Mary were planning to get married when Mary suddenly turns up pregnant. She likely told Joseph about the appearance of the angel and the virgin birth and Joseph ends up believing her, which is a miracle in itself. Luther said there were two miracles of the incarnation; the first was that God became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and the second miracle was that Joseph believed the angel. Who would make up a story like that and expect anyone, much less a fiancé to believe it? But here we see Joseph’s character again. After he learned Mary was pregnant he struggled with what he should do, and being a just man and wanting to do what was right for Mary he decided to quietly break the engagement to avoid scandal. It was the decent thing to do. But while considering his options an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream to tell him that Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit and the baby she was carrying would be the Messiah and Savior of the world. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His Name JESUS for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. The angel did not explain how this was possible he simply revealed to Joseph what God had done and Joseph believed him.

 

  1. The Angel told Joseph to name the child JESUS which means Jehovah is Salvation. The child would fulfill the words of Isaiah: Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son (Is. 14:7).The Son of Mary would be called Emmanuel, which interpreted means: God with us. He would be the Seed of the Woman promised in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15); the promised Messiah who would crush the head of the serpent and bring life, peace, and forgiveness to mankind. Many liberal theologians deny the Virgin Birth but without this doctrine the Christian faith collapses. If Jesus had an earthly father He would have inherited Adam’s sinful nature and could not have been our Savior. Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, true God and true Man, Son of God and Son of Mary; fully divine yet fully human, born to save the world from sin. Joseph was given the incredible task of being a stepfather to the Son of God to protect and provide for the child and His mother in his early years. What an incredible story! Needless to say, the will of God changed Joseph’s plans. His life would never be the same. Did Joseph ever have any doubts when all this was happening? I am sure he had a few questions but the Bible simply says when he awoke from his dream he did exactly as the angel commanded. He took Mary as his wife, named the child Jesus, and raised him as his own son! Joseph was a vital part in helping bring Jesus, God’s gift to mankind, into the world.

 

  1. The gift of salvation comes to mankind by God’s sovereign will, apart from human works and merit, yet for the plan of salvation to be complete it required a YES from Joseph and Mary. By the grace of God, they cooperated with God just as He expects us to cooperate with His work in our lives and in the world. Christ is the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Heb. 5:9). You can no more separate saving faith from obedience than light from the sun or fire from heat. Saving faith works by love which motivates good works in our lives. We are saved by grace through faith and good works are the evidence of faith. Faith is the root and good works are the fruit of salvation. When you see an apple tree you cannot see the roots of the tree, they are below ground and not visible. So how do you know the tree is alive? By its fruit. Jesus said: I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit (Jn. 15:5). How can we know that we are alive in Christ? Because we believe the promise of forgiveness in the Gospel and by the fruits of faith we see in our lives. Joseph said yes to God’s Word. Mary was a descendant of David but Joseph was the legal Son of David. It was our Lord’s relationship to Joseph and his connection to Bethlehem that required the family to travel to that city for the Roman census and it was in Bethlehem that Jesus was born to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.

 

  1. The prophecies of the Old Testament had to be fulfilled. The Word of God could not fail to come to pass. In Advent we celebrate the Word made flesh; Christ born of a virgin mother, born in weakness and humility, born to save us by the manger and the cross; born into a life of poverty and service. Today the Lord Jesus Christ still comes to His people in humility and simplicity in the simple waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, in the preaching of the Gospel and in the bread and wine of the Communion Supper. The world thinks these things are foolish and unnecessary as Paul wrote: But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Cor 2:14). Man cannot understand or believe the Gospel apart from the new birth. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). Only the Spirit of God can grant new life to the heart of a sinner through the Word of the Gospel and Holy Baptism. The church’s real treasure is Christ! He condescends to us through the means of grace to offer apply and seal the forgiveness of sins to our hearts and to gives us a new relationship to God. Christ came to earth the first time in a manger of wood filled with straw. To the human eye it was nothing but to the eyes of faith He is the most precious treasure in the universe, the very riches of God. What are some applications of the life of Joseph?

II.

  1. Joseph teaches us NOT to place our trust in human reason when seeking to understand the things of God. Paul wrote: For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (I Cor. 1:18; 23-25). Christ laid down His life to redeem the world from sin, but you would never understand or believe the Gospel until the Spirit of God opens your eyes to receive it. We are totally dependent upon the revelation of God’s Word for the knowledge of divine things. The Christian soon realizes that the most important realities in the universe are not visible to the human eye. We cannot see or touch them. God must reveal the truth to us. If we live our lives only by what we can see, touch, hear or understand we will never be saved. In fact, Jesus said our Heavenly Father hides His truth from men who think they are wise in this world and reveals it unto infants, to those willing to believe the Gospel in simple faith. The cross of Christ is the wisdom of God for the ages. Paul wrote: For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:2, 5).

 

  1. Joseph also reminds the Christian to hear and obey the Word of God. Only the believing obey and only the obedient believe. Whenever a person will not believe and obey God’s Word he is a stranger to God. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand (Jn. 10:26-28). People do not realize how serious it is for a professing Christian or Church to deny the clear Word of God and embrace false doctrine. When we leave the light of God’s truth and depart from the path of holiness, we are stepping into darkness, into error and sin. This is the devil’s territory. Churches that embrace the false doctrines so prevalent in our day end up being ruled by Satan. Christ will not dwell with sin, there is no fellowship between light and darkness. Churches that deny God’s Word and enable people to live in sin are no longer worshiping the true God. Christ is outside that church knocking on the door to be let in. You may have to suffer for believing and standing for God’s Word. I have a friend whose son is working on his PhD in Astro Physics and is being pressured to embrace evolution. Obedience to God’s Word may cost you a university degree. This young man has already surrendered the Book of Genesis for theistic evolution. Joseph understood there are mysteries we believe simply because God has revealed them in His Word.

 

  1. Joseph obeyed God’s Word with a willing cheerful heart even when he did not understand all that God was doing. By faith he took Mary to be his wife as a faithful husband and stepfather. When there was danger Joseph protected Mary and Jesus taking them to Egypt until their enemies had died to fulfill the word of the Prophet that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1). Later Joseph moved his family back to Israel, to the village of Nazareth to fulfill yet another prophecy, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene (Mt. 2:23). God uses His people to accomplish His sovereign decrees in the world. Just as He used Joseph and Mary to bring Jesus into the world He uses us to bring Christ into our world by our lives and words. Your faith and obedience to God are vitally important to the people in your life, more important than you can imagine. We are fellow laborers with Christ in the lives of our family, friends, and coworkers. We should ask God to give us the faith of Joseph, faith to trust and obey God’s Word in every calling of life, as a husband, wife, child, church member, or parent. Joseph and Mary believed on Jesus as their Savior just as we do, though at first their understanding was not as complete. They would eventually understand that Jesus was God in the flesh, born to redeem the world from sin and to give us eternal life by faith in Him. This is our hope this evening as we receive the promise of the Holy Sacrament the remission of sins. Amen.

 

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